Most people are delighted that American football has returned to George Fox University. I haven’t heard many observations on the irony—or the appropriateness—of this violent sport erupting in a Quaker setting.
Speaking of irony, it’s strange that I should be writing this. I’m the coach’s daughter. Or, more accurately stated, was the coach’s daughter. I grew up in a small town in Southern California where football was the center of community life. The Ramona Bulldogs reigned, and my dad was the coach. Friday nights the bleachers completely filled up with young and old, and the excitement crackled like fireworks.
[Coach Forsythe, center, back]
The sport dominated high school life. Of the 96 boys in Ramona High School in 1959, 54 of them were on the varsity or junior varsity team. Every girl longed to be a cheerleader. To give everyone a chance to participate, we had the first string cheerleaders, song leaders (who wore shorter skirts), pom pom girls, the baton squad, and the flag twirlers. I twirled a flag. In between games, we went to classes and studied.
We were good. In 1958, the Ramona Bulldogs won the Southern California Intervarsity Football championship for Class A high schools (very small). I remember the roar of the crowds as that final touchdown guaranteed the trophy. I remember the team carrying my dad off the field on their shoulders. For a shy, skinny girl in middle school, that was Big Stuff. In 1959, Dad was named Coach of the Year for Southern California. I still have the newspaper articles in my scrap book.
I was raised on American football.
My years in Bolivia, however, converted me to the sport the rest of the world calls football and we call soccer. Latin Americans yell at their games, too, and go a bit crazy when they win. But soccer somehow seems safer, less brutal than our football.
It’s not just a matter of seeming safer. What we’ve been learning about American football in recent years should frighten us enough to have second thoughts about sponsoring this sport on any high school or university campus. A recent Time Magazine feature on the dangers of football is subtitled, “The Tragic Risks of an American Obsession,” and goes on to detail some grim statistics about concussions and the greater likelihood of dementia at earlier ages. This, added to the Quaker peace testimony, makes me wonder why more questions aren’t being raised about GFU’s new program.
I have a proposal. Since it seems unlikely that the decision to include football in the life of the university will be reversed, let’s at least even out the risks. My proposal is that we turn the new bleachers into a smoking area and that the university supply free cigarettes to one and all. Students especially should be encouraged to smoke as they cheer on the team. What this would do is spread around the dangers. While the players are bumping heads and giving each other concussions, the spectators will be puffing away and equally endangering their health and future.
If we university Quakers are a little lax in the arena of non-violence, at least we can give a testimony for equality.
It just seems fair.
[This article originally appeared on my blog in 2014.]